It was during a flight delay over New York’s LaGuardia Airport that David Richardson affirmed his decision to trim his bold bet on water projects.

Just weeks earlier, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, Richardson had shifted about half of Impax Asset Management’s $6.3 billion to water projects with a focus on the U.S. He figured that the new administration would finally be able to address America’s aging infrastructure, and he wanted Impax to be part of the action.

Then his arrival at LaGuardia was delayed -- because of flooding, he said. That got Richardson, a managing partner at the London-based firm, second-guessing exactly how long it was going to take for politicians to start spending the $2 trillion experts say America’s infrastructure will need over the next decade.

So Impax cut its stake in water projects to 46 percent of its assets with an eye to trim more. Not a big reduction, true, but other investors now share his skepticism about the U.S. getting anything done soon. They worry that Congress and a president focused on health care, tax reform and geopolitical threats means they can mark down 2017 as yet another lost year for fixing infrastructure.

“People who were very optimistic at the beginning of Trump’s presidency are now looking for infrastructure spending to be more of a 2018 thing,” said Jose Garza, a research analyst at Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York. “It’s been shuffled behind other priorities.”

Investment Need

Pictet Asset Management, which has about $6 billion invested in water, sees much of the U.S. industry as fully valued and has been taking profits on some positions, according to Geneva-based portfolio manager Simon Gottelier.

“Clearly the Trump administration is planning to spend on infrastructure,” Gottelier said. “It could come in the next 12-24 months.”

It’s not as if there isn’t a need. Spending on municipal water and wastewater will climb to $532 billion through 2025, a 28 percent increase over the last decade, according to a Bluefield Research estimate. Old pipes cause 240,000 water-main breaks each year at a cost of $2.6 billion, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lead has been showing up in drinking water around the country, not just in Flint, Michigan. California agreed this month to spend $275 million to repair the Oroville Dam spillway before the rainy season starts.

Investors who want to get in on water infrastructure spending can buy the stocks of utilities, those of their suppliers, or municipal utility bonds.

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